Aging Out: Challenging the Status Quo
Every year, over 22,000 young people age out of state-run foster care programs across America. Statistics tell a grim story about the future of these 18-20 year olds as they leave the system and begin life on their own. Studies show that 6.5% of these young people will face jail time and/or homelessness within their first few years as adults. In fact, they’re 8 times more likely to be incarcerated than others their age. Unemployment rates among those aging out are more than double those of their peers, probably due in part to the fact that they’re nearly ten times less likely to complete a 4-year degree. More than a fourth of these young people report having to choose between paying a bill and having enough food to eat, and they contemplate suicide at a rate nearly twice that of the general population. It’s alarming at best, to understand the difficulties that await young people who have grown up without a family and are suddenly thrust into society on their 18th birthday with little support and often no one to turn to.
At Palmer Home, these statistics are drastically different. Through a variety of methods, we’re doing our best to enable our young people to beat the odds. It starts long before age 18. When a child is admitted to Palmer Home, one of our first priorities is academic assessment. Our Whole Child Initiative is founded on the belief that if we ignore any area of a child’s well-being (physical, emotional, educational, or spiritual) it will inevitably affect the other areas as well. While our goals for each child differ academically, we aim for every child to leave our care with the skills to continue to a trade school, certification program, or higher education. We work with our students to understand their interests, build their strengths, and identify their weaknesses for extra help.
Additionally, the family-like living situations and welcoming campus environment at Palmer Home provide a stable support system for a student, with accountability and encouragement always available. Many students also have outside support systems through local churches and Palmer Home’s Sponsor program. While we cannot, and should not protect our students from every challenge or failure, we hope to provide them with the tools they need to navigate independent life.
Far from booting students out, our young adults have the option to continue living at Palmer Home in more independent quarters after their high school graduation, or to shift to an apartment or college residence hall. Our counseling staff, teachers, and administration work with students to form a plan that usually includes a transition to a more independent living situation and a 2-year college or trade school. Students then have the option to continue in pursuit of a 4-year degree or to enter the work force.
Sabrina*, one of this year’s graduates, has plans to attend East Mississippi Community College before proceeding to Mississippi University for Women, where she’ll study photography. “I’m really excited to learn more about my major. I’m more excited about getting to MUW and learning more hands-on about photography. Without the influence of Palmer Home, I would probably have just gone to community college and not on to a four-year university.” Other recent high school graduates from Palmer Home campuses have chosen to attend community college, trade programs, and even nursing school.
All of these options are available to any student who chooses to continue their relationship with Palmer Home past their 18th birthday and high school graduation. We know that our young people are more than statistics, and we’re determined to give them every opportunity to change their stories for good. While “aging out” can be a scary prospect for a child in the foster system, our students have the opportunity to face their futures with confidence and hope!
*Statistics in this blog were taken from this study.
*name has been changed to protect identity